On April 28th, working at the behest of his handlers in the fossil fuel industry, Donald Trump signed yet another(!) of his infamous executive orders, potentially expanding offshore oil and gas drilling operations pretty much anywhere and everywhere. The order’s reach would include the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific ocean, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Fortunately for the planet, Trump’s attempts to dismantle Obama’s environmental legacy have been running into opposition from environmental groups, state and local governments, native tribes, lawmakers (on both sides of the aisle) and now, the United States Air Force. The question now is – how intractable will the Trump Administration be on this issue?
Opposition to offshore drilling has been strong in Florida, particularly along the panhandle region, which bore the brunt of Deepwater Horizon disaster back in 2010. Under the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, the eastern Gulf of Mexico has been mostly off-limits to oil and gas companies for more than two decades. Florida lawmakers as well as members of Congress have been actively working to keep that moratorium in place until 2022. However, the American Petroleum Institute has been pushing the Trump Administration to go ahead and open those areas anyway.
Now, the Air Force, which maintains a major base of operations twenty miles east of Pensacola, is weighing in. Three weeks ago, General David Goldfein wrote a letter to Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, in which he emphasized the importance of maintaining the moratorium on drilling. In his communication, General Goldfein states:
“The moratorium on oil and gas leasing…and other related activities ensures that…vital military readiness may be conducted without interference and is critical to their continuation.”
His letter comes two months after the Pentagon wrote to GOP Representative Matthew Gaetz, in which Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Anthony Kurta emphasized “the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium.”
This is only one battle in a wider war being waged across the country. It is also yet another roadblock standing in the way of Trump’s anti-environmental agenda.
Trump’s executive order is not only being opposed by lawmakers and state governors on both coasts, it will invariably run into legal challenges. For example, in banning oil exploration in certain areas, President Obama used a 1953 law known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, prohibiting oil companies from ever drilling in the Atlantic between Virginia and Massachusetts and protecting most of the waters off the northern coast of Alaska. This means an act of Congress would be required before Trump’s Department of the Interior would be allowed to open up such areas to oil exploration.
When Trump first signed the order, environmental law professor Robin Craig from the University of Utah speculated that environmental groups would bring lawsuits if his Administration decided to open up those coastal areas to drilling. It is likely that state and local governments would take legal action as well, particularly in communities that rely on fishing and tourism. Of course, the Defense Department is less concerned about such matters. Nonetheless, it is one more obstacle standing in the way of an ill-advised agenda to further enrich the oil industry while keeping the United States addicted to petroleum.